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Auckland

Written on: Wednesday April 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Auckland, New Zealand 

Author: Julie 

Hello! 

We've slowly started adjusting to the jetlag, with a 12 hour difference between Rio and Auckland, it's been difficult. We've tried to get up early and go to bed late to adjust our body to the new hours, but no matter what we do we find ourselves awake in the middle of night. Luckily for us, there is plenty of entertainment as the bars let out at 2 AM, disgorging its drunk revellers near our hostel. We've been privy to arguments between couples, seen a few fights including one between a couple of girls, listened to impromptu serenades below our windows, and listened to the weird and inane conversations that can only make sense to the drunk ("no, no I love you man" followed by "cows are freaking weird"). We were able to fall back to sleep at 5 AM to be bright awake at 7:30 AM. We found a nearby café that served delicious sandwiches and cappuccinos to the early morning work crowd. 

First up on our itinerary was to visit the Parnell district, a cute up-market shopping area similar to Bank street in Ottawa, but much more expensive. Jewellers were showing off 30,000$ rings in the window and when I inquired about getting a hair trim at a salon they quoted me a price of 125$, just for the cut! We continued on till we got to the Domain, one of the largest parks within the city. Located within was the much recommended Auckland War Museum. The museum houses the largest collection of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts and treasures in New Zealand, including for example three entire buildings and a waka (war canoe) from 1830. The museum also stores a photographic collection of 1.2 million images, and stores and exhibits 1.5 million natural history specimens from the fields of botany, entomology, geology, land vertebrates and marine biology. The stated goal is to eventually possess specimens from all New Zealand species. There is also an extensive permanent exhibition covering wars, both within New Zealand and New Zealand's participation in overseas conflicts. This exhibition is linked to the War Memorial (see below), and for example shows models of Maori pas (earth fortifications) and original Spitfire and Mitsubishi Zero airplanes. We arrived just in time to see a Maori performance. We were given the chance to experience a Kapa Haka, a series of Maori songs and dance, including the Poi dance performed by women and the Haka performed by men. Poi (meaning "ball" in Maori) is a form of juggling or object manipulation employing a ball suspended from a length of rope which is held in hand and swung in circular patterns. It originated as a means of promoting increased flexibility, strength, and coordination and as an exercise of movements central to the use of hand weapons. In Maori culture, the discipline of poi evolved into a traditional performance art practiced mostly by women. This art includes storytelling and singing choreographed to poi routines. During the Poi, Kevin and I were pulled up on stage to try to perform with the women but we didn't do to well. It looked simple enough to twirl the balls but I managed to hit myself in the head a couple of times. Although the use of a haka by the All Blacks has made one type of haka familiar, it has led to misconceptions. Haka are not exclusively war dances, nor are they only performed by men. Some are performed by women, others by mixed groups, and some simple haka are performed by children. Haka are performed for various reasons: for amusement, as a hearty welcome to distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements or occasions. War haka, which had their own term, 'peruperu', were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Today, haka constitute an integral part of formal or official welcome ceremonies for distinguished visitors or foreign dignitaries, serving to impart a sense of the importance of the occasion. Various actions are employed in the course of a performance, including facial contortions such as showing the whites of the eyes and the poking out of the tongue, and a wide variety of vigorous body actions such as slapping the hands against the body and stamping of the feet. As well as chanted words, a variety of cries and grunts are used. Haka may be understood as a kind of symphony in which the different parts of the body represent many instruments. The hands, arms, legs, feet, voice, eyes, tongue and the body as a whole combine to express courage, annoyance, joy or other feelings relevant to the purpose of the occasion. Once the performance was done, we had the opportunity to take a photo with the performers. 

A quick lunch of fish and chips (15$ for 2 people) we visited the first and second floor of the museum. The first floor had a wonderful Maori and Polynesian exhibition including artefacts from various tribes including weapons, shields, clothing (some made from human hair, shells, and fur), boats, cooking implements, etc. It provided an interesting history of the migratory path of the various ethnic tribes over the last couple millennia as they moved South and East to populate the islands in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand. The first floor also had a huge section for kids with old toys and candy from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Another room there was a display of the weirdest and strangest instruments including one called a Hurdy Gurdy. The 2nd floor was dedicated to volcanoes and tectonic plate movements. It explained in detailed how the various continents were formed, how earthquakes occur, the types of rock that can be found, how volcanoes are formed, and what happens to magma. Given that New Zealand sits in the Equatorial area known as the ring of fire, it is no stranger to volcanoes. In Auckland alone, from certain heights more than 50 volcano craters can be glimpsed, including one at Mt Eden, a park in the center of the city, with a collapsed cone creating a large grass covered depression. One of the coolest features at the museum was a reproduction of a small house which every 10 minutes reproduced the effect of a 6.0 earthquake as felt on the Richter scale. I had never experienced an earthquake before so I was really curious to feel it under my feet. Fortunately it wasn't enough to knock everyone off their feet, but enough to certainly give you an idea of how scary it would be when it wasn't expected. The other section on the second floor was dedicated to the natural environment of New Zealand with a description of the local wildlife endemic to the island, as well as introduced species either consciously or accidently that has wrecked havoc on this unique ecosystem. 

It was nearing 4 PM and our brains were starting to get overloaded with information so we decided on a change of scene. The Auckland SkyTower, an observation and telecommunications tower located on the corner of Victoria and Federal Streets in the Auckland CBD, looms over the city skycap and it's one of the best places to see the city and catch the fading sunset. It is 328 metres (1,076 ft) tall, as measured from ground level to the top of the mast, making it the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and the 12th tallest member of the World Federation of Great Towers. Due to its shape and height, especially when compared to the next tallest buildings, it has become an iconic Auckland structure, often used in logos and promotions. So we hoofed over to the SkyTower and paid our backpacker fee (proved by showing them our hostel dorm key) and went to the Sky Lounge to get a view and share a bagel and beer. Once the sunset was starting we climbed the connecting stairs to the 60th floor known as the Sky Deck. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset, highlighting all the bays and little volcano hills surrounding Auckland. In the bays 100s of sailboats floated, bated in the last lights of the day. We spent some time walking the 360° walkway admiring the city below us, taking photos. I spent some time freaking Kevin out by leaning back on the angled glass, letting it take all my weight. Kevin is not that crazy about heights and he couldn't bring himself to do the same. One of the attractions at the SkyTower is to do a jump from the 60th floor attached to a wire that lets you free fall up to 85km/h for 11 seconds, a combination between a bungy jump and base jump, before stopping you gently just a few feet before hitting the ground. We watched a few people jump but didn't think it was worth the price tag 195$ . 

On the way back, we stopped at one of the many cafeterias that can be found under all the commercial buildings in the CBD and ate some Chinese and Indian food at a cheap price. There is a large immigrant population in Auckland, making up 25% of the 1.2 million in population. There certainly was a lot of good choice and it was hard for us to make a decision, especially after the South American diet of mostly meat and rice. It was a delicious problem to have. We hadn't had the time to go grocery shopping yet so we were still eating restaurant bought food. The lack of sleep and the jetlag had us almost dragging our feet by 7 PM and we were both fast asleep by 9:30 PM.